When Ronaldo Mouchawar was working in a Boston engineering firm he dreamed of moving back to the Arab world. Born and raised in Aleppo, Syria, he had come to the U.S. to study, then got a high-paying job, but he believed he “owed something” to his home region.
It turned out his ticket back was a smart idea at the right time. He founded Souq.com in 2006 and settled in Dubai, the financial capital of the United Arab Emirates. Now he’s the CEO of what’s considered the most successful e-commerce site in the region. He recently raised $150 million in capital to expand. The 44-year-old entrepreneur says commerce is part of his DNA.
“I studied engineering, my dad was a really strong trader merchant, so the combo was a no-brainer for me.”
Setting up a business in many Arab countries is difficult, which made business-friendly Dubai an obvious base. Internet penetration had reached 20 percent in the UAE by the time he moved there. His e-business took off a few years later when the regional cell phone revolution connected millions more to the net.
“Suddenly, you go from 30 million users to 130 million users” in the Arab world, he says in his glass-walled office in Dubai. This meant potential customers in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. “The Arab world massively embraced mobile technology. There is 70 percent penetration in the Gulf. That was prime territory for us.”
A Quiet Transformation
In a region where war, political turmoil and oil prices dominate the headlines, technology quietly is transforming the Middle East, says Mouchawar. He recognized the potential early and is riding the wave. Now, Internet start-up companies in Dubai attract millions of dollars from venture capitalists who come from Silicon Valley and from the Middle East.
“For those of us who sit in the middle of it, we already feel it,” says Fadi Ghandour, the founder of Aramex, a logistics company based in Amman, Jordan. He moved his operation to Dubia and spends most days listening to start-up pitches. He’s now a full-time investor in a movement he believes will reshape the region.
“You can feel the crescendo,” he says. “People will start to feel that energy that you saw in Tahrir Square, in Egypt,” he says, referring to an Arab democracy movement that started in 2011. “This is the energy of the start-up community across the region.”
Technology is embraced by the young generation in a region where 60% of the population is under 35. “Youth empowerment, this was a driver for us,” says Mouchawar.
Jobs for this generation are scare. Youth unemployment is in double digits in all Arab states. Tech jobs can change the statistics by leveling the playing field for educated tech specialists in a part of the world where family connections are often the key to a decent job.
Extract courtesy of NPR / Morning Edition – full Story at NPR / Morning Edition Here